Here’s an exchange that happened – in the real world – between the President of the United States and his Department of Homeland Security head, according to The New York Times:
“Kirstjen, you didn’t hear me the first time, honey,” Mr. Trump said, two people familiar with the conversation told the Times. “Shoot ‘em down. Sweetheart, just shoot ‘em out of the sky, O.K.?”
That’s Donald Trump speaking to Kirstjen Nielsen regarding – although the subject doesn’t really matter – the legal justification of the United States shooting down drones.
It is easy to miss the Nielsen exchange in the whole saga, considering that Trump spent his Wednesday forcefully denying other aspects of the Times story, such as that he reportedly wanted to build an alligator moat to curb illegal immigration and suggested shooting immigrants in the legs to slow them down after they crossed the border.
“It was corrupt reporting,” Trump said. “I don’t even use ‘fake’ anymore, I call the fake news corrupt news because ‘fake’ isn’t tough enough.” CNN has reached out to Nielsen for comment on the “sweetheart” exchange from the Times story.
But it is not a secret to anyone with a functioning brain that Donald Trump’s past statements on women are not exactly, uh, woke. This is a man who, in a leaked “Access Hollywood” audio tape, can be heard saying “I’ve got to use some Tic Tacs, just in case I start kissing her. You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful – I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait” – among other lewd and misogynistic comments. And a man who said this of business executive and fellow GOP presidential hopeful Carly Fiorina during the 2016 campaign: “Look at that face. Would anyone vote for that? Can you imagine that, the face of our next president?!”
In the wake of the Fiorina incident, Trump insisted his comments about Fiorina’s face were in reference to her “persona” not her “looks.” When Fiorina brought up the incident in a subsequent presidential debate, Trump’s response was, uh, not perfect; “I think she’s got a beautiful face and she’s a beautiful woman,” he said. Right.
Following the release of the “Access Hollywood” tape, Trump made some attempts at an apology – releasing this statement:
“I’ve never said I’m a perfect person, nor pretended to be someone that I’m not. I’ve said and done things I regret, and the words released today on this more than a decade-old video are one of them. Anyone who knows me knows these words don’t reflect who I am.”
What this Nielsen episode makes clear is that this is exactly who Trump is.
(It’s worth noting here that Joe Biden sarcastically referred to a female moderator as “a real sweetheart” after she asked him about his past comments that Vice President Mike Pence was a “decent guy.”)
Trump still lives in a “Mad Men” world where men take care of business over dinner while women work as secretaries or wives. Where women are best seen and not heard. It’s a view that pervades hows he sees the world – from referring to a former porn actress who he allegedly had an affair with, Stormy Daniels, as “Horseface” to alleging that cable TV anchor Mika Brzezinski was “bleeding badly from a face-lift.”
Time and time again during his candidacy and now his presidency, Trump has shown through his words and actions that he views women primarily through how they look. And that he does not see them as equals. Hence the dismissive tone and words directed at Nielsen. What Trump was really saying in that quote is: Just do it, OK? I know better. I am a man and you’re just a woman.
To be clear: Trump’s casual sexism isn’t likely to change many voters’ minds. The “Access Hollywood” tape story broke just a few weeks before the 2016 election and Trump still got 42% of the female vote – roughly equal to what Republican nominee Mitt Romney got in 2012. How? Why? Both good questions! My educated guess is that the women who voted for Trump did so because a) they saw his statements as not that different than what men had said to them and b) they prioritized his ability to shake up Washington over all other factors.
Which may well mean they vote for Trump again in 2020. But if they do so, they have to know Trump’s sexism isn’t something of his past. It is his present and his future too.